Truth Gore Dare
The satisfyingly edgy Bat Boy will make you laugh ‘til your stomach turns.
Thursday, September 15, 2005
Musical theater appears to be mentally ill. Faces contorted into rictus grins of wild emotion, characters bursting into song with schizophrenic zeal, their bodies dance and wheel about the stage as if driven by some unseen master, they overreact and over-act and over-compensate. It is a theater of extremes.
And Bat Boy, the bizarre musical at The Western Stage, is no exception.
Licensed under agreement with The Weekly World News, and co-written by Keythe Farley, a Western Stage alum from the ‘80s, Bat Boy is deftly crafted and ultimately satisfying. But this thing is weird. Not weird in a wholly unpleasant way; weird in a “I just found a leech in my underwear, and it feels good” way.
Quick summary: a Spock-eared boy with fangs and an unquenchable thirst for blood is discovered in a West Virginia cave. He is brought into the home of a local family, made up of a needy mother, a horny daughter and a sociopath veterinarian. The family locks him in a cage in their living room and over time he learns to speak the King’s English using BBC Language tapes and socialize to such an extent that he eventually becomes part of the family.
But there is trouble. Something is killing off the town’s cattle and various townspeople blame the Bat Boy. And there is a secret. A terrible secret and people start dying. In fact there’s a whole lot of death in the play—fun death, wonderfully campy screaming death, wholesale death.
The stage is splattered with blood, the prop box contains things like a decapitated cow head. One character even gets raped by a whole colony of rubber bats. Bat Boy is so terrifically gory and wrong and silly that it transcends bad taste. In fact, I wasn’t sure what was more interesting, watching the action on the stage or watching the predominantly elderly audience’s reaction to the action on the stage. This is a group of people who probably found Anything Goes racy, and here they were politely watching a musical about murder, bestiality and incest. To their credit, they applauded and at times truly seemed to be trying to enjoy it. Hats off to artistic director Jon Patrick Selover for having the chutzpah to bring something like this in. It’s long overdue.
Credit for this thing working goes to the cast. As Bat Boy, Lucas Rocco Alifano is wonderful. It’s a tremendously physical role. His Nosferatuan contortions and uncomfortably autistic posturing is spellbinding. After discovering his voice by contributing a primitive melody to “A Home For You,” the duet with Meredith (Anna Ishida), he makes the splendid and hilarious transition from beast to boy in the revelatory, show-stopping number “Show You a Thing or Two.” It’s a twisted and conflicted portrait of the outsider and it resonates like sonar. A strong Western Stage debut from this Santa Cruz actor.
Richard Boynton is slick and wicked and funny as the father, Dr. Thomas Parker. And as his wife, Ishida channels tremendously manic, sad, disturbed energy. Their daughter, played by Brittany Bexton, injects a hot syringe of sex into the proceedings and has a strong, rich voice to boot. As her meathead boyfriend, Mike Baker stumbles a bit, but more than compensates as Pan in the trippy, wildly random pagan number “Children, Children.” Other notables include Diane Ehlers as Mrs. Taylor, who delivers the catchiest little number of the first act, “Mrs. Taylor’s Lullaby,” and Mitchell Davis, who does a wonderfully clichéd and effective sheriff.
Despite its rich material, Bat Boy only has a handful of really catchy songs. On the whole, I found the score to be a bit bland and predictable. It didn’t help that the cast was unmiked. At times, especially during the ensemble numbers, the singing was muddy and the music cacophonous. In addition, the overly loud recorded accompaniment only seemed to be coming from stage left, which gave it a mono instead of stereo sound.
Nonetheless, the story is hilarious and engaging. Bat Boy is precisely the kind of theater that Monterey County needs more of—cutting edge, a little dangerous, and not afraid to fail.
BAT BOY: THE MUSICAL PLAYS AT 8PM FRIDAY AND SATURDAY, 2PM SUNDAY ON THE MAIN STAGE, HARTNELL COLLEGE PERFORMING ARTS CENTER, 156 HOMESTEAD AVE., SALINAS. $25/ADULTS; $17/JUNIORS, SENIORS AND MILITARY. 755-6976 OR WWW.WESTERNSTAGE.ORG. ENDS 9/24.